Game 7: Hamrlik lifts Habs to season’s first home victory

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You can’t say he doesn’t backcheck: Canadiens centre Tomas Plekanec dives across goaltender Cristobal Huet to keep a Buffalo shot out of the Montreal goal.
Phillip MacCallum, Getty Images

0habsbuff1.gifCanadiens defenceman Mike Komisarek (right) tangles with Buffalo’s Ales Kotalik along the boards.
Christiine Muschi, Reuters

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The Canadiens no longer are winless at home.

First star Roman Hamrlik scored at 12:38 of the third period tonight, then Christopher Higgins found an empty Buffalo net with 24.9 seconds left to play, lifting Montreal to a 4-2 victory over the visiting Sabres.

The Canadiens were 3-1 losers to Carolina in their home opener last Saturday before dropping a 2-1 shootout decision to Florida on Tuesday. And then they were on the short end of a 4-3 game in Ottawa on Thursday, so tonight’s win was most welcome, snapping a three-game losing streak.

Hamrlik, Montreal’s free-agent defence signing upon the departure of blueliner Sheldon Souray, provided the Canadiens with the winning goal with Montreal enjoying a two-man advantage, Buffalo’s Drew Stafford and Brian Campbell serving minors. It wasn’t pretty; he was given credit for the winner after his shot caromed off the end boards and found its way in off Buffalo defenceman Toni Lydman.

The goal was first credited to Higgins, who appeared to chip it past Sabres goalie Ryan Miller from the corner of the crease, but the call was changed to Hamrlik.

Bryan Smolinski put the Canadiens (3-2-2) on the board at 2:34 of the first period, scoring his first goal as a Canadien on a short wrist shot assisted by Roman Hamrlik and Mikhail Grabovski. It came on the power play, Buffalo’s Henrik Tallinder serving a hooking minor.

But Buffalo (3-4-0) struck, and struck again, early in the second at even strength, centremen scoring a pair nine seconds apart. Paul Gaustad tipped one in past Canadiens goalie Cristobal Huet at 4:12, with Derek Roy wristing one home at 4:21.

Kyle Chipchura, centring the Canadiens’ fourth line and playing in place of Andrei Kostitsyn, then even things up with the first goal of his NHL career, some good work along the boards rewarded when he worked himself into position at the top of the faceoff circle to whip one in unassisted past Buffalo goalie Ryan Miller at 7:10.

The Canadiens get a day off for good performance. Sunday’s scheduled practice was cancelled, giving the Habs a breather before Monday’s Bell Centre game against Boston. Then they hit the road for their first back-to-back games of the season, in Carolina and Pittsburgh, next Friday and Saturday.

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It’s a special night in Montreal:

Readers of Habs Inside/Out have come to town from across Canada and several points in the U.S. for the first annual Habs Fan Summit, a full day of events planned around the game. We’ll have more on the Fan Summit posted here on Sunday, with photos, and I/O staffer Kevin Mio will chronicle the event in Monday’s Gazette, that story to appear here as well.


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